What Do Apes eat? 9 Top Foods in their Diet

Written by Colby Maxwell
Published: January 13, 2022
Image Credit Raul654 / Creative Commons


Apes include a rather broad range of simians (higher primates) from the Old World. Generally, if it’s not a monkey, people will colloquially call it an ape. Apes can be split into two families: Hylobatidae (or lesser apes) and Hominidae (great apes). Lesser apes have sixteen species of gibbon and typically live in the trees. Great apes, however, are the more famous of the two and include orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos. Interesting enough, humans are a part of the Hominidae family and are related to apes, although the last split to living relatives was probably 8 million years ago. Apes are some of the most interested (and intelligent) animals on the planet – let’s find out what apes eat!

What do apes eat?

What Do Apes Eat

Image CreditA-Z-Animals.com

Apes eat fruit but supplement their diets with insects, tubers, occasional meat, and more.

While apes are a rather broad group of animals, there are some general characteristics that most species stick to. Overall, apes are frugivores. A frugivore is an animal whose diet primarily consists of fruit or fruit-like plants. Most apes can live on omnivorous diets, but fruit is the main staple. Notably, gorillas are folivorous, meaning they mostly eat plants, leaves, roots, shoots, and stalks.

Humans have the most diverse diet of all the great apes, eating everything from fruits and veggies to meats and dairy.

A complete list of foods apes eat

What Do Apes eat?
Apes mostly eat fruit but can consume meat and insects when food is scarce.

Image CreditiStock.com/nantonov

Here is a complete list of foods apes eat:

  • fruits
  • veggies
  • plant leaves
  • tubers
  • shoots
  • stalks
  • insects
  • other primates (occasionally)
  • processed and cultivated foods (humans only)

Different diets for different ape species

What Do Apes eat? - young orangutan hanging in tree
Almost all apes eat fruit, but their individual diets are specialized to their environment.

Image CreditiStock.com/molishka1988

Since apes have such a diverse diet across different species, let’s look through some specific examples.

Gorillas

Gorillas have the most different diet from the other apes (aside from humans). They are herbivorous and terrestrial. Since they don’t regularly climb trees, their diets reflect it. There are four subspecies of gorillas, but all of them share a similar diet. Their main foods include stems, bamboo shoots, fallen fruits, and leaves. Western lowland gorillas, however, have a dietary specialization. They will break open termite nests and feed on the millions of insects inside. They are also known to eat ants.

Orangutans

Orangutans live in the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia. Their diet is almost exclusively fruit. Their favorite foods are lychees, mangosteens, mangoes, figs, and durian. Their diet is so fruit-heavy, it’s estimated that fruit is between 60-90% of their total dietary intake. Aside from fruit, orangutans eat leaves, shoots, insects, and eggs when they find them.

Bonobos

Bonobos are endangered apes that can only be found in the southern forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are closely related to chimpanzees but are not recognized as a separate species. They are known to be the smartest apes in the world. There are 113 different plants that bonobos consider food. Fruit is their main caloric source, but they are omnivores that also eat leaves, flowers, seeds, insects, fungus, and honey. They are sometimes seen washing their food in water, showing some incredible evolutionary evidence for disease avoidance.

Chimps

Chimpanzees (often called chimps) are highly intelligent and live in the forests and savannahs of tropical Africa. Chimps are omnivores but generally stick to fruits, berries, leaves, and seeds. When they stray from vegetation, they are known to eat insects, eggs, and small vertebrates (birds, reptiles, and mammals). They will occasionally eat meat, but it’s estimated that chimps only get 3% of their diet from meat sources (about nine days a year).

Gibbons

Gibbons are typical frugivores that live all the way from Southern China to Bangladesh. Their diet is almost entirely fruit, but like other primates, they have the ability to alter it to include things like leaves, flowers, shoots, insects, and eggs.

How do apes get their food?

What Do Apes eat? - Portrait of bonobos. Close-up
Apes generally forage for food in the treetops or on the ground.

Image CreditGUDKOV ANDREY/Shutterstock.com

There are three common ways apes get their food.

Terrestrial foraging is useful for finding plants, leaves, and shoots that are edible. Gorillas and chimps are primarily terrestrial, so this method of foraging is generally the approach they take. This can be as simple as pulling leaves from a stalk or as complex as creating tools to pry insects out of dead logs.

Arboreal foraging is where apes who primarily eat fruit will thrive. Fruits are usually higher up in the trees, making them harder to reach from the ground. Climbing trees and crossing large swaths of land in search of fruit is common when foraging aboreally.

Cultivation is a uniquely human method of gathering food. Planting, reaping, and processing allows humans to gather large amounts of food without foraging across large swaths of land.

Can apes eat human food?

What Do Apes eat? - Portrait of Gibbon sitting
Apes can eat most human foods, but unhealthy foods are still unhealthy.

Image CreditJulielangford / Creative Commons

There are a few settings where apes interact with humans on a regular basis. Zoos are some of the most common, but there are occasional human interactions with wild apes. Since humans and apes are so closely related, the foods that we share are incredibly similar. In fact, apes and humans can eat almost identical diets.

In captivity, apes may eat (and even prefer) human food, but there are healthy and unhealthy options just like there are for humans. For example, chimps at the Chimp Haven rescue center are given sugar-free popsicles when they want to provide a sweet treat for their primate friends. Additionally, they are often given “surprise foods” that they have never seen before. It’s often that these new foods become favorites (the first time they had a kiwi is one example).

Are apes cannibals?

While it isn’t common, there have been instances of cannibalism among the apes. Chimpanzees are by far the most likely cannibals among the great apes. The most likely occurrence is when an adult male kills the child of another female. The intent isn’t usually to eat them, but inevitably the result occurs when there is now meat in front of hungry apes.

Additionally, different chimpanzee tribes will attack individuals from other groups and eat them. Generally, animal cannibalism is done out of scarcity and isn’t typical.